The liberalism of fools?

I cannot recommend highly enough Ken Macleod’s post (found via Crooked Timber) on how the “socialism of fools” – Engels’ description of anti-semitism – was accompanied by a sort of “liberalism of fools”, to wit, the anti-Catholicism of the pre-WWII era. Macleod, acknowledging that anti-Catholicism is rather passé these days, wonders if hatred of something else, perhaps another sect, might fill the roll as a modern liberalism of fools.

And, on a not entirely separate topic, French satirical weekly Charlie Hebdo (no website, not that kind of paper) is republishing the images, along with one on its cover of Mohammed crying “It’s hard to be loved by fools”. An effort by the Conseil français du culte musulman to stop publication through the French courts was rejected on a technicality.

Chirac, however, has demonstrated that he is not, contrary to widespread belief, the biggest fool in Europe. Unlike the Danish Prime Minister, he has “condemned all manifest provocations that are liable to dangerously arouse passions.” Alas, he has only retreated to the number two slot in European political idiocy. He also said, “Anything susceptible to harm the convictions of others, particularly religious convictions, should be avoided. Freedom of expression should be exercised with a sense of responsibility.” Right on count two, wrong on count one. Responsible freedom of expression means that when you go out to offend people, you can’t claim to be surprised when they are offended. But there is little point in free speech if it is forbidden from trying to change convictions.

And round and round this totally avoidable fiasco goes.
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The cartoon row: aiming for maximum shock value

Iran newspaper Hamshahri came up with an original plan to counter the release of Danish cartoons making fun of the prophet Muhammad and decided to hold a little cartoon contest to test the limits of free speech:

The daily paper Hamshahri said the contest was designed to test the boundaries of free speech — the reason given by many European newspapers for publishing the Prophet Mohammad cartoons.

Fair enough, you’d say? Well, not quite. The theme of the contest is the Holocaust, incidentally called an “incident”:

A serious question for Muslims … is this: “Does Western free speech allow working on issues like America and Israel’s crimes or an incident like the Holocaust or is this freedom of speech only good for insulting the holy values of divine religions?”‘ the paper said on Tuesday.

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A Brief Note…

from our internal discussions. I recently remarked to Edward that for much of the US government’s foreign policy apparatus, Russia is still Not Europe. This view is a legacy (still) of the Cold War period in which most of the decision-makers and working-level staff were trained and gained experience. It shapes basic reflexes toward Europe and the post-Soviet space, and knowing the background may at some level help outsiders understand this or that about official US approaches. (There are of course many levels of complexity, not least Congressional politics, commercial interests and ethnically based politicking, but this is meant to be a brief note.)
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Did Russia come out ahead in the gas crisis?

Expanding on (and slightly copying) my comments in Edward’s post below, I was really shocked to see the spin in the western coverage of the Ukrainian gas crisis. The part that didn’t shock me – just made me groan – is the spin of a western press that seems to have decided in advance that Russia must be the bad guy, so Ukraine must be the good guy. Russia may be the bad guy, but I don’t think is Ukraine is the good guy. From what I can tell from the press, Russian claims that Ukraine was siphoning off gas seem well founded – Russia had been complaining since summer about siphoning, Gazprom was willing to let third parties audit the difference between what was going into Ukraine and what was coming out, while Ukraine refused. Also, it seems that the Russians weren’t the only ones making allegations about siphoning. Yes, Russia’s intentions towards Ukraine are not honorable, nor is this some purely commercial conflict free of political meaning. But, that does not exclude the prospect that Ukraine was screwing Russia.

But what really surprised me was the claim that Russia was the loser here.
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Slowed or stalled?

Taking a break from the German elections, I ran across this recent article over at Radio Free Europe. Short version: EU accession for the Western Balkans (Croatia, Bosnia, Serbia, Macedonia and Albania) is stalling.

All of these five states would like to be part of the EU, but — with the partial exception of Croatia — none of them are particularly welcome. The EU appears to be going through a period of “accession fatigue” in general. The “No” votes in France and the Netherlands, though not directed specifically at these countries, have definitely created an atmosphere of doubt and uncertainty.

Furthermore, many of the countries of the Western Balkans are — there’s no way to be polite about this — unpopular. A recent Eurobarometer poll shows that more people oppose membership for Bosnia (43%) than support it. Only 40% of Europeans support EU membership for Serbia, while 44% oppose it. And for Albania, those numbers are a depressing 36% for, 50% against.

Obviously this could change over time. Again with the exception of Croatia, all of these countries are at least a decade away from membership. So opinions might shift. Still, the poll numbers suggest that there’s not much popular support within the EU for even starting the process.

Looking at the potential members one by one, below the flip.
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Life Expectancy in East and West Germany

After so many days of posting topics related one way or another with death, perhaps it is better to get back to life. One good excuse for doing this could be the 25th International Population Conference organised by the International Union for the Scientific Study of Population and which opened yesterday in Tours, France.

You can find the full conference agenda here, and there are topics to suit all tastes for those who are interested.

Over the next few days I’ll post on one or two of the workshop topics which catch my eye, and today it’s a paper by German-based researcher Marc Luy, entitled “A new hypothesis for explaining the mortality gap between eastern and western Germany” (Only extended abstract available online at present).
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On Predictability.

While the entire world is admiring Londoners for their ability to not let the terror destroy their way of life, while London mayor Ken Livingston is taking the Tube each morning, because not doing so would prove the terrorists strategy right, the British government is reinforcing its ongoing quest to get hold of as much information about citizens as possible. I’d call it “opportunistic”, they’d call it “concerned”.
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Happy End?

We mentioned on Tuesday that some analysts of Russian foreign policy had suggested President Putin’s harsh words about “veiled Western colonialism” were an imlicit concession that he would not get the “Ukraine-deal” with the West terms he had hoped for. Simlpy because there was nothing “the West” or any consituent parts thereof had to trade in this respect, even had they wanted to. It seems, those analysts were right: Reuters reports

“Former Cold War foes NATO and Russia on Thursday played down weeks of tension over rigged presidential poll results in Ukraine and issued a joint call for free and fair elections at the end of the month.

Russian Foreign Minister Sergei Lavrov repeated accusations of western meddling to deprive Yanukovich the office. But both Lavrov and NATO insisted there had been no confrontation and pointed to new cooperation pacts as a sign of good ties.”

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Enter The People. Why We Are Wearing Orange.

It is getting colder in Kyiv, so it may not be too surprising both camps are busy fueling the flames of their conflict. In a country eagerly awaiting its Supreme Court’s decision about the validity of last week’s Presidential election, the second week of popular protests in Kyiev begins with the incumbent president Kuchma’s threat to enforce martial law, and more secessionist motions passed by Eastern regional assemblies/authorities, which, although likely a consequence of oligarchic pressures and thus questionable true popular support, have caught the attention of the Yushenko campaign – as Scott’s post below indicates. In many ways, things could take an ugly turn soon.

Given the growing awareness that Mr Yushenko is a politician with oligarchic friends of his own, who is making, as the Kyiv Post stated on Saturday, “a multi-faceted attempt to take power”, and not a saint, I think it is appropriate to explain exactly what we want to express by wearing orange these days: orange is, after all, Mr Yushenko’s campaign color. But then, it seems, orange is no longer just his campaign color.

Former US National Security advisor Zbigniew Brzezinski stated last Thursday, in a roundtable discussion, hastily arranged by the American Enterprise Institute, that we witness “the meeting of Ukrainian nationalism with Ukrainian democracy on a popular basis”. Well, nationalism clearly has its role, and not unexpectedly in a country featuring such a motley collection of salient cleavages. Yet for all I hear, I do not get the impression that the nationalism exhibited by the crowds peacefully demonstrating for Yushenko is of divisive, ethnically exclusive nature – while the Yanukovich camp apparently scared ethnic Russian voters in the East. Arguing that the Kuchma administration has talked up ethnic tensions to be able to act as mediator, Tarik Amar writes in a very informative, long primer at John Quiginn’s

“[c]rucially, even in round one the opposition managed to win all Ukrainian regions in the West as well as the Centre of the country, including ? by a large margin ? the largely Russiophone capital city Kyiv. The government has always liked to pretend that the opposition?s base was restricted to the Ukrainophone West, implying that it was ?nationalist?, even ?separatist.? Some Western observers still cling to these facile stereotypes. It is Yanukovych who has been cornered in a minority of eastern oblasts. If anybody represents an above-regional Ukrainian solidarity, it is clearly Yushchenko. He speaks proper Russian as well as Ukrainian and his being a native of one of Ukraine?s most eastern oblasts and having spent his student and working life in western as well as central Ukraine cannot be matched by Yanukovych, whose biography is strictly mono-regional and whose Ukrainian is not perfect.”

So I think Mr Brzezinski’s statement is by and large correct about the nature of what’s going on. And while most Ukrainians as well as political analysts will probably have agreed even before last week that this election was a crucial event for Ukraine, I think everyone has been surprised by the hundreds of thousands of people who have turned the election into a plebiscite about the kind of society they want to live in. Let me again quote Tarik Amar –

Even if some Western minds jaded by overfeeding on ?Civil Society? rhetoric may find it old hat, for Ukraine things are at stake that were achieved in Poland in 1989: essential respect for the law and the sovereign people, pluralism, and, indeed, freedom from fear. Ukraine is facing a choice not between different policies or regions but between mutually exclusive political cultures. Without undue idealization, the opposition stands for a reasonable understanding of rules, laws, and good faith in observing them.

Wearing orange is – now – essentially about aspiring to a different standard of governance. Yet I am not as certain about the prospects of Ukrainian civil society as Mr Brzezinski, who believes it would survive even a failure of the current stand-off. I am worried by the failed 1953 East-German uprising – it’s (bloody) failure led to widespread decades-long political apathy. Despite all efforts by political activists from inside (and outside) Ukraine, Ukrainian civil society must still be weak. Thus, as every little thing may count, we have decided to display a few additional orange bits to show our support for all those in Kyiv who are aspiring – and freezing.

One more thing. Over the last few days, some reports have led to not unreasonable suspicions about a renewed confrontation between Russia and “the West” about Ukraine, including some about several Western, particularly American, governmental as well as non-governmental organisations having “meddled” with the Ukrainian elections, particularly by funding grassroots protest-organisations like the student movement PORA.

Yet “meddling” is a matter of degree – a week before the second round of the elections, the Cato Institute’s Doug Bandow quoted a Russian political consultant with the so-called “Russian club”, Sergei Markov, using the American grassroots support to justify the – far more extensive – Russian involvement in Ukraine –

“[l]ook at what the U.S. is doing here – supporting foundations, analytical centers, round tables. It’s how contemporary foreign policy is pursued. And it’s exactly what we’re doing.”

I would never claim that “the West” or any of its constiuent parts would be above the use of electoral manipulation; particularly, in situations where it had a clear idea where it wants to go and what to expect, how to direct, and what to achieve through any political movement.

Yet, as opposed to Russia, whose motives with respect to Ukraine are clear – if there is one truth about the American and European involvement in Ukraine, I think it would be that there is no strategy, simply because there isn’t a monolithic or even prevailing view of Russia anymore. Absent any real strategy, Western support is likely to have actually achieved what it was supposed to achieve: create process awareness.

It was the latter that brought the people to the streets, not some handbook of popular opposition, pollsters, political consultants, or stickers paid for with money from Washington or Brussels. And that is one more reason to wear the ribbon.
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